How Food and Food Writing Have Changed in America

This special event, moderated by Clark Wolf, one of the country's top food and restaurant consultants, on November 20, 2008 at the Fales Library in the NYU Bobst Library, was billed as:20 Years of Food Arts (30 Years of Food & Wine) ((33 Years since I have been in the first NYU class to graduate in the Bobst Library)) this my personal addition only for this blog! The panelists were: Michael Batterberry, Founder of Food Arts and Food & Wine Anne Bramson, Publisher of Artisan Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer Prize winning Food Writer David Kamp, Editor and Author and Liz Neumark, Caterer and Farmer It was a full to capacity crowd of old friends and colleagues who could barely stop joyful greetings to allow the fascinating panelists to start their presentation. Clark started with the shocking news that Gael Greene had just been fired. There were audible gasps as Gael is considered goddess of food writers and has been writing for New York Magazine as food critique for more years than I can remember. I have long adored her writing and, in fact, was honored by the most beautiful and eloquent quote on the back of The Cake Bible 20 years ago and she had never even met me--only my manuscript! Hearing this terrible news struck fear in all our hearts that an era had come to an end and gave credence to our perception that things may well never be the same. I am listing a few of the most memorable tidbits from my notes--not from a recording device-- so they are not, for the most part, direct quotes.

The presentation began with ever astute and quotable Michael Batterberry who spoke of looking at the world "through the prism of food and wine." He informed us of the surprising fact that it wasn't until 1977 that chefs in the US were given the official category of professionals (no longer kitchen help). He spoke about the appearance of "food trends" and the difference between trends and evolution, definint it as "an expression of the present." He shared his original concept for Food & Wine Magazine--that he wanted to create a magazine that he himself would be interested in reading and that would have to be entertaining enough to draw readers in. {I just realized as I write this that most of my writing for magazines has been Food & Wine and in recent years Food Arts. I've long felt that the Batterberrys are kindred spirits and now I see where it all began.) Panelist David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugula, had us all laughing with his summation of change in food writing as the elimination of the need for italics when referring to food such as in sashimi or pico de gaia! (No further explanation was necessary.) He also defined "trend" as something that can evolve into something long term versus a fad. Ann Bramson, publisher of many of America's greatest authors such as Thomas Keller (French Laundry), and Jacque Pépin, referred to his 1976 La Technique as the first time hand skills were written about (there may have been some giggling here from the audience) or that technique was part of a food book. She explained that in those times, if a book was pretty or had color it wasn't considered to be a serious book. Pépin's book(s) showed other chefs how the recipes were plated. She summarized that the biggest change in the past 20 years is the advent of the TV food celebrities. I would have like the panelists to continue for much longer than an hour but the second hour was devoted to a food and wine tasting and the opportunity to talk to everyone including the participants. An Author's Event and Reception in honor of Clark Wolf's first book American Cheeses (Simon and Schuster) will be held at the same location on Thursday, December 4. Contact Tosca@clarkwolfcompany.com